Keys to the Ministering of Angels

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Today in Priest Quorum we discussed the responsibilities and duties of Priests. Compared to Deacons and Teachers, Priests have three main additional responsibilities:

  1. Blessing the Sacrament
  2. Baptizing
  3. Helping ordain other Priests, Teachers, and Deacons

When I was Priest age, I stood in on ordinations of fellow Priests. It was always a wonderful experience; something that helped prepare me better for the responsibilities of the Melchizedek Priesthood, namely, the laying on of hands. While ordinations are not a primary role of Priests, they are able to help from time to time.

Another part of our lesson focused on one of the blessings that Priests (and all Aaronic Priesthood holders) have – the keys to the ministering of angels (see D&C 13; D&C 107:20). We had a discussion about what this phrase means. Ministering angels can be seen or unseen; they can be not yet born, deceased, or mortal individuals.

One of my favorite stories from the life of Wilford Woodruff (that my father used to tell to my brother and me) was included in the lesson manual (although it’s a little different from the version I learned from Wilford Woodruff’s Leaves From My Journal):

President Wilford Woodruff experienced the ministering of angels when he was doing missionary work as a priest and was impressed to warn a formerly active Church member named Father Hakeman to repent and become active again.

“I was once moved upon to go and warn old Father Hakeman. … He had been in Jackson County during the persecution period. … We went a good deal out of our way for the purpose of visiting Father Hakeman. I had a vision the night previous, in which was manifested to me the trouble that lay before us, but that the Lord would deliver us. We arrived at his house on Sunday morning. He was taking breakfast. We had had breakfast at the place where we stayed overnight. I saw a Book of Mormon on his shelf. He did not seem to pay any attention to us, or to take any interest in us. I took up the Book of Mormon, and said, ‘You have a very good book here.’

“‘Yes,’ said he, ‘but it is a book that came from the devil.’

“That opened my eyes. He had been an elder; he had been in Zion; had been persecuted there and driven out; but I found that he had apostatized, and he was our enemy. I saw he would do anything he could against us.

“We left him and went to Brother Hubbard’s and stayed with him three weeks, during which we took our axes and cleared some land for him. I was strongly impressed three times to go up and warn Father Hakeman. At last I did so, according to the commandment of God to me. The third time I met with him, his house seemed to be full of evil spirits, and I was troubled in spirit at the manifestation. When I finished my warning, I left him. He followed me from his house with the intention of killing me. I have no doubt about his intention, for it was shown to me in vision. When he came to where I was, he fell dead at my feet, as if he had been struck with a thunderbolt from heaven. I was then a priest, but God defended me and preserved my life. I speak of this because it is a principle that has been manifest in the church of God in this generation as well as in others. I had the administration of angels while holding the office of a priest. I had visions and revelations. I traveled thousand of miles. I baptized men, though I could not confirm them because I had not the authority to do it.

“I speak of these things to show that a man should not be ashamed of any portion of the priesthood. Our young men, if they are deacons, should labor to fulfil that office. If they do that, they may then be called to the office of a teacher, whose duty it is to teach the people, visit the Saints and see that there is no evil or iniquity carried on. God has no respect for persons in this priesthood any further than as they magnify their callings and do their duty” (Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, sel. G. Homer Durham [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1946], pp. 297–98). (Source).

Wilford Woodruff, a Priest in the Aaronic Priesthood, was protected by God, by ministering angels. As a missionary I had similar, although much less dramatic experiences. I’ve felt ministering angels at other times in my life as well.

Heavenly Father loves each of us, His children. One of the strongest manifestations of this love is through the Priesthood. We are given access to some of God’s power. This power is given so that those who hold it can bless the lives of other people. But I want to return to what it means to hold the keys to the ministering of angels.

Keys lock and unlock objects. They allow the key holder to control access to things. Holding the keys to the ministering of angels means that those with the Aaronic Priesthood do not just receive the ministering of angels, they are able to call upon angels when needed. So instead of being passive recipients of the comfort and protection of angels, those with the Aaronic Priesthood can actively call for the blessings and comfort of angels. All of this, of course, if dependent upon worthiness and God’s will but God gives His priesthood to men so that they have opportunities to use His power, not independently from God but inter-dependently with Him. It’s a remarkable power that God gives to men.

Learning Discipline

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During my first semester of college I was enrolled in the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFROTC) with the eventual goal of being a fighter pilot for the Air Force. While this goal did not materialize because of feelings that my life needed to go in a different direction, I learned valuable lessons in ROTC; I look back on my time in it as including some of the best experiences in my life.

The military is very structured. As part of our training, we were required to learn our chain of command (link is a PDF of a sample chain of command) up to the Commander in Chief – Pres. William Clinton at that time. Knowing this information was important because it was our line of authority from us as cadets (who had no authority) to the person ultimately in charge of the military (the President). Knowing the chain of command taught us the structure of the Air Force and helped us feel part of a greater whole.

This is a part of the discipline of the military. Another component of discipline is saluting your superior officers. Anyone who holds a higher rank is to be saluted and your salute will not end until after theirs has ended. This discipline teaches respect for those with greater authority than what you have, even if the superior officer has no direct authority over you. This reminds me of an experience I had that taught me about respect and leadership. One time we as cadets visited Hill Air Force Base. We were dressed in our ROTC uniforms (which are just like standard Air Force uniforms but we have AFROCT epaulets instead of commissioned officer shoulder marks). What was a little funny to us at the time was how we were treated by enlisted airmen. Some people saluted us, not realizing we did not need to be saluted (we were dressed like officers), but most recognized that we were just ROTC members and did not yet have rank. Anyway, we were at the base early enough for breakfast. I was eating with one of the other cadets when a Colonel came and sat with us. We talked with him for a while. Then another Colonel came and sat with us. One happened to be the commander of Hill AFB and the other was in charge of part of the operations of Hill AFB. Having this experience impressed me because here were two of the top men in command of the base sitting and having breakfast with two ROTC cadets. I was slightly self-conscious during the experience because I wanted to leave a good impression but I was also moved by their concern for us as individuals. That taught me much about leadership.

To be in ROTC I had to take military science courses as well as Leadership Lab (learning about the structure and function of the Air Force) and physical education. We also spent a lot of time learning to march. We learned to march in formation and follow commands instantly – “Present, ARMS! Forward, MARCH! Right shoulder, ARMS! Column right, MARCH!” and so forth. As part of our marching for parade practice I was my squadron’s guideon bearer (I carried the squadron flag). This means that when the commander was present, my job was to be out in front with him (or her), carrying the flag. As part of our training we also learned all the proper etiquette and protocol. We had frequent inspections of our uniforms. We had to have our shirts tucked in (and held taut with shirt garters – which, by the way, were really nice to use), our shoes always shined (I spent about an hour a week shining my shoes), our clothes ironed and starched, and everything lint free. We were expected to be groomed appropriately and looking our finest. We always had to be on time and ready to go. Offenses were potentially punishable by having to drink the grog (at Brigham Young University it was usually composed of punch with a mixture of cookies, whipping cream, soy sauce, crackers, and whatever else seemed distasteful to include in the mix) at the AFROTC ball held every semester.

We had to learn to remain composed when under pressure. We had to answer questions – even ridiculous ones like, “What sound does Tarzan make?” And be able to reply, “Ohhh-ahhhhh-ohhhhh, sir!” without laughing or breaking our composure. I used to have my roommates try and see if they could get me to move or smile or laugh as practice for remaining composed while standing at attention. I learned a way to remain aware of my surroundings but not allow them to affect me. When you are at attention (and even “parade rest”) almost nothing should result in you moving your eyes or turning your head or smiling or moving at all. This was a learned skill. All of this was done as a matter of discipline.

Our exercising in the morning (early morning – 6:00 AM, which is really early in college) was intense. We ran, did pushups, did pullups, jumped, and performed other physical activities so that we would be in good condition. Some of the days were particularly difficult. I never threw up during or after any of my track and field workouts in high school but I threw up twice after ROTC workouts because of the physical strain. Was this healthy? Certainly more healthy than not exercising! I had this physical training twice a week. We trained intensely both mentally and physically so that we would have discipline under pressure. I also learned that when there were times that I thought I could not go farther, I did.

Not being content to just be part of ROTC, I joined the Honor Guard. We were a drill team that were ostensibly training as the elite of ROTC. We had special additions to our uniforms of a beret, a shoulder braid, an ascot, and taps on our shoes. This was so we would stand out in public performances. A group of 12-16 of us worked together to perfect our marching skills. In my journal from the time I wrote my first entry about Honor Guard: “Honor Guard practice was interesting. We are marching around and practicing our moves. We did some minor rifle work…. [Written at a later date] We just learned how to do some cool spin movements and a little toss thing [with our rifles]. We split into four-man teams…. We practice 5 days a week for one hour at a time. We do little throw [moves] and some other fancy moves we are learning.” It was sometimes daunting to have a 10 pound rifle flying and spinning through the air at you but we learned to trust our training and trust the other members of our team. I found a video (I’m not in it) of the type of stuff I did in Honor Guard.

Here’s another video of the AF Academy Honor Guard (ignore the heavy breathing and sniffling at the beginning of the video – it gets better; of course, by telling you to ignore those you’ll pay more attention to them. :)).

What is the point of all of this show? Is it just about doing something that looks cool? It does look cool but at it’s core, it’s an activity where you learn how to work together as a single unit. You learn trust and precision. You learn that by practicing over and over you can do things automatically. In my training I learned discipline. My group could move and think as one (well, we were at least working towards that). The things we can accomplish with discipline and unity are great.

This experience only lasted four months. After that, I felt that it wasn’t right for my life, even though making that decision was hard. I did not want to stop ROTC but I felt that I needed to. Now I’m not doing anything similar to ROTC but the experiences I had still affect my life in positive ways.

What are the spiritual parallels for all of this? Just as physical discipline can be and is learned, so is spiritual discipline. I worked for at least an hour five days a week for more than three months to learn how to march and carry and throw rifles with precision. I had other classes and practice sessions to increase my discipline. What effort do we put into training our spiritual discipline? Do we spend an hour a day studying the gospel, praying, meditating, talking about the gospel, or doing other things that can enhance our faith and faithfulness? Do we practice the gospel or do we merely attempt to go through the motions? Gaining spiritual strength occurs in the same way as gaining physical strength does – through exercise and dedication.

What about leadership? At Hill AFB the top commanders of the base took time to talk with me and ask and answer questions. If we are in positions of leadership in the church (or elsewhere), do we make time for the individual? Do we go out of our way to talk with others and let them know that we are interested in them? Are we really interested in them? Do we follow the Master and minister instead of just administer?

Discipline gives us strength when we are vulnerable. Discipline allows us to act appropriately without thinking when faced with temptation. Physical and spiritual discipline are interconnected. This is why physical commandments such as the Word of Wisdom are also spiritual. Also, principles we learn from obtaining physical discipline apply to spiritual discipline. Elder D. Todd Christofferson stated, “Moral discipline is the consistent exercise of agency to choose the right because it is right, even when it is hard.” (October 2009 General Conference). Why do we choose the right? What is the end goal of spiritual discipline? To become better disciples of Christ. Discipline is all about discipleship. If we have not chosen Christ and disciplined ourselves to Him, who have we chosen to follow instead? Whose disciples are we if we are not Christ’s?

The Church Marches On

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A couple Sundays ago I was teaching the lesson to our Priest (we only have one) when I made a comment about us leaders in the Church being easily replaceable. I meant the comment to be somewhat self-deprecating but honest. Our bishop started to disagree with me so I amended my statement by saying, “Some of us are easily replaceable.” Then we went on with the lesson. My point in making that statement was not to minimize myself or any particular individual; the point I was trying to make is that we are called to positions within the Church. We do not aspire to positions. We are set apart and/or ordained to positions and then released at some point (although there are callings that last for life but those are relatively few). Mainly the point I was making is that we leaders train others to take our place at some point in the future. Maybe not our particular calling but we want to teach the youth how to be leaders. I think a leader is best when the leader becomes largely expendable. Now what do I mean by that? I mean that a leader should be able to train others to replace him or her.

I am not minimizing the talents and particular callings of each individual nor am I neglecting fore-ordination; what I am doing is all church leaders are replaced at some point (it might be through death in some instances but we are all replaced). What this means is that we as leaders need to make sure that we help train others to be leaders. None of the operations of the Church are about specific church members (and yet, the Church is all about specific church members). What I mean is this: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is Jesus’ church. He is its head. He is its Ultimate Leader. The prophets and apostles and all other leaders are called as was Aaron of old – by prophecy and by the laying on of hands. They do not call themselves to the ministry, they are chosen. That’s how all church positions are filled – by prophecy. Okay, I know that’s not always the case but for the most part it is the case that church positions are filled by direct revelation. I also know that sometimes people volunteer for positions but in such instances they do not call themselves. This reminds me of what happened following the death of Joseph Smith.

While the early years of the Church were tumultuous in general, the death of Joseph Smith sent shockwaves though the membership. Some left the Church but most remained. Outsiders prophesied that the Church would die – cut off the head of a snake and the snake dies. But that’s obviously not what happened. It would have happened should some of the church leaders and members gotten their way. A meeting was called where the general membership were invited to hear “arguments” from Brigham Young (who was the president of the Quorum of the Twelve) and Sidney Rigdon (and others) over who would be the next leader of the Church. Brigham stated that Joseph taught that the authority remained with the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Sidney Rigdon claimed that he, as the sole surviving member of the First Presidency should be the next Church President. Notice the difference – Brigham Young wasn’t claiming he should be the President, he claimed the authority rested with the Quorum of the Twelve. Sidney was seeking the honor for himself. Yes, Brigham would eventually be the President of the Church (in part because he was the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles) but his argument was that the authority was with the Twelve and not an individual.

Put all of this together and you have a church that is run by a lay ministry; people who volunteer their time to build up the Kingdom of God. Church leaders are called by those in authority over them through revelation. They do not call themselves, which is doctrine that is not only Biblical (see Hebrews 5:4) but was also solidified in the months following Joseph Smith’s death. This is why I stated that we as leaders are easily replaceable – we are called into positions for a while and then released. The Church moves onward with nary a blip. A bishop is release, a new one sustained, and the Church marches on. A Relief Society president is released, a new one called, and the Church marches on. A prophet dies, a new one is ordained, and the Church marches on. We are just part of God’s great work; it will go forward with or without us so it is up to us to choose whether or not we will help it along as best as we can..

On the Death of Allison

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Not quite one week ago my sweet niece, age 11, was riding her bike with her father and a sister when she was struck by an automobile. She died instantly.

On my family blog I wrote the following:

“Yesterday as the lights were going out here on the East Coast, in the West, a different light dimmed and then disappeared. In a moment worlds changed and hearts broke. Bicycle and automobile danced a tragic ballet, extinguishing the light of one so small. As this light faded from earth, leaving a hole in the hearts and darkness in the lives of loved ones, a brighter light grew and radiated with an unfiltered luminosity in an eternal world. The sorrows and tears of earthly separations were balanced by the tears of joy from reunions with other pure lights.

“Goodbye sweet Allison, your death has brought a dearth of joy to all who mourn your passing but your life brought love and joy to those around you. You came to earth for just a short while; not long enough for us who are left but long enough to fulfill our Father’s plan. We are brightened by our memories of your light and long for the day when we shall meet again, face to face and embrace in embrace in eternal realms. We are strengthened by our faith in the Savior Jesus Christ who gave His life that all would live again. Jesus “appoint[s] unto them that mourn in Zion, [and] give[s] unto [us] beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, [and] the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness” (Isaiah 61:3). We are fortified by the knowledge and power of the sealing of families together forever through the power of the Holy Priesthood of God. We miss and love you Allison!”

Since then, all our – family and friends – feelings have been tender; our hearts are broken. My sister, brother in law, and their family are trying to put the pieces of their shattered lives back together. In the midst of crashing waves of sorrow, we cry:

It darkens. I have lost the ford.
There is a change on all things made.
The rocks have evil faces, Lord,
And I am [sore] afraid. (Source).

The loss of a child under such tragic circumstances is devastating. It is a hellish darkness of separation – poignant and painful; a pain one might expect would never end. But with the inexorable march of time comes a deadening of the pain. The storm passes, the numbness fades, but still gray skies remain. There is room for laughter and joy but at times the grief can be overwhelming. So would go life, the only solace in the numbness of time, without knowledge of God’s plan for His children. However, there is more solace available; it comes through faith in Christ’s Atonement and the knowledge and power of eternal families. These are like radiant rays of the sun bursting through the dark clouds and burning away the dreary mists of life.

Jesus is like a song in the night. He is a pillar of fire. He restores breaches in our hearts and families. He stabilizes the rudderless and calms the stormy seas. The Lord blesses us with His tender mercies – friends, family, and other loved ones who provide meals and support. There are the mercies of the promptings and love provided by the Comforter – the Holy Ghost. Most importantly, we are blessed to know that because of the sealing power of the Priesthood, Allison will be forever part of her (and our) family should we remain faithful to God. That knowledge is almost unbelievably comforting. I phrased it that way because at this time when we think we might be completely devastated, we feel some measure of peace even though peace seems so out of place.

President Joseph F. Smith, “at the death of his 19-year-old daughter Alice, his ‘Darling Alibo,’ on 29 April 1901, conveyed his faith in the Atonement in a letter to his son: ‘Our hearts are still bowed down in the earth where the remains of our Sweet girl and those of her little Brothers and Sisters repose in dust. … But we will do the best we can, by the help of the Lord, and from our hearts we feel that our Sleeping treasures are all in His holy keeping and will soon awake from the dust to immortality and eternal life. But for the precious assurance and glorious hope in the Gospel of Christ, life would not only not be worth the living, but it would be an infamous and damning farce! But, ‘O, what joy this sentence gives, I know that my Redeemer lives!’ Thank God.'” (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, Jesus Christ Redeems All Mankind from Temporal Death).

Those are strong words from someone in the acute phase of separation. The joy that comes from the knowledge of what happens after death is immensely comforting. Even though we feel painfully separated, those who depart do not travel far. President Ezra Taft Benson taught: “‘Sometimes the veil between this life and the life beyond becomes very thin. Our loved ones who have passed on are not far from us’ (in Conference Report, Apr. 1971, 18; or Ensign, June 1971, 33). President Brigham Young taught that the postmortal spirit world is on the earth, around us (see Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young [1997], 279).” (Source). Even though we cannot see our departed loved ones, they are close by us in a world of spirits.

In the spirit world, those like Allison are in a place of peace and rest: “The spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of happiness, which is called paradise, a state of rest, a state of peace, where they shall rest from all their troubles and from all care, and sorrow.” (Alma 40:12). Allison is free from all troubles, care, and sorrow. That does not mean that she has no cares for us, she just has no burdensome cares; things that so many of us are plagued with in our lives. She is surrounded by her family who have gone on before. They are with her until her parents and the rest of her family join her in that radiant world.

We have received promises of peace and comfort forevermore. Some day, we will all live in a promised paradise like the millennial earth of which the Lord said:

“For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind. But be ye glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create: for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy. And I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in my people: and the voice of weeping shall be no more heard in her, nor the voice of crying. There shall be no more thence an infant of days, nor an old man that hath not filled his days: for the child shall die an hundred years old.” (Isaiah 65:17-20).

There are a lot of hopeful promises made unto those who mourn. For now we mourn, but this life is just a blip in eternity. Some day the voice of weeping will be heard no more among the people of the Lord. Those who mourn for lost loved ones will be reunited. There won’t be the premature loss of children to death. Christ shall wipe away their tears and anoint them with the oil of joy.

We shall see Allison, one of our missing joys, again. Through the sealing power of the Priesthood families can be together forever. Allison is sealed to her parents and family by this same power. I know that we will all be resurrected some day because of Christ’s death and resurrection. As we remain faithful to these covenants we made in the Holy Temple of God we can return to live with Allison and our Father in Heaven.

You can read her obituary here.

For those wishing to honor Allison Bowers, her family has suggested that in memoriam donations can be made to the Neonatal Resuscitation Program of Latter-day Saint Charities or to the school library at Hale Elementary School in Mesa, Arizona. Allison loved both children and reading, and either program would be a fitting memorial. The family sincerely thanks you for your love and support during this difficult time.

To donate to the Neonatal Resuscitation Program, follow the instructions under In Memoriam giving at the LDS Charities website or go directly to give.lds.org/neo-natal.

To donate books for the school library at Hale Elementary School you can bring in a new book to the library and specify that it is in memory of Allison, or you can send a check that will be used to buy books for the school library. Checks should be made out to Hale Elementary School, contain the name “Allison Bowers” in the memo line, and can be brought to the school’s main office or mailed to Hale Elementary School at 1425 North 23rd Street, Mesa, AZ 85213. The books donated or bought will be marked that they are in memoriam of Allison Bowers.

Here is a brief video about death from Mormon Messages. In it, Pres. Monson expresses his testimony of the Plan of Salvation and of life after death.